Thursday, January 26, 2006


“He didn’t think windmills were monsters, he just hated windmills.” -- Lars Eighner, regarding Tim Barrus.

That (terrificly quotable) quote is from this article in the LA Weekly arguing that the very white (and often angry) Tim Barrus is pretending to be Navajo Indian, Nasdijj, writer of several critically acclaimed memoirs. Nasdijj claimed to have fetal alcohol syndrome and had to bury two of his own adopted, Navajo children, who died from fetal alcohol syndrome -- but just happened to exhibit symptoms more similar to the hydrocephalia suffered by Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Indian writer, Sherman Alexie.

Needless to say, this sort of thing is getting a little more attention due to James Frey's memoir-worthy ordeal.

"Not that it matters, but most of what follows is true." -- from the beginning of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, by William Goldman

It's the "not that it matters" part that I'm curious about. I think Oprah wants to express something similar when she says:

"But the underlying message of redemption in James Frey's memoir still resonates with me, and I know it resonates with millions of other people who have read this book."

There's a sub-plot in another of my favorite films, A Bridge Too Far, also by Goldman. In this sequence a tough staff sergeant, played by James Caan, promises a nervous young lieutenant that the LT wouldn't die. Lo and behold, the LT drifts off target during the parachuting and lands in German occupied territory. James Caan then commandeers a jeep, races into the woods, recovers the LT's broken body, and drives out of the woods while dodging German gunfire.

He then takes the LT to a medical officer, who refuses to do anything since the kid's already dead (or close enough). The guy who could win a Rollerball match all by himself when the coproate powers were trying to do him in won't have any of that and pulls a pistol on the medical officer. Med officer then discovers that the kid is alive, and can be saved, and essentially lets James Caan go.

I thought that scene was the most significant flaw in an otherwise terrific film -- just way too corny and cliche.

Later I discovered it was actually true.

Which makes it fucking amazing.

That's where I disagree with Goldman's quote. Truth transforms the hackneyed into the fucking amazing.

I'm never amazed by fiction. I know you just make up anything you want. So you've got to go for something else, something more subtle to engage me and make your life lesson (or whatever other piss you're trying to sell) actually resonate. Usually, it requires more work and talent.

I do appreciate one truth James Frey understood, and has revealed to a nation thirsty for a new kind of honesty:

Regardless of your audience's politics, it's okay to lie if your message is anti-drug.

1 comment: